The art of the introduction

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
As a child I understood that a firm handshake with eye contact was an excellent way to introduce oneself.

Liz Breslin
Liz Breslin
My school friends still laugh at me for my trademark enthusiastic "Hi, I’m Liz" and my guy-like grip. When I went to Poland on the weekends (which was actually Oxford, but everyone I knew there spoke Polish and I hadn’t done geography yet at school so it was an easy mistake), we mixed it up a bit. Possible greetings included three kisses, cheek to cheek to cheek, or, if I held my handshake hand out palm down, a single kiss planted there.

I never really thought very much about introductions as a status game until I moved to Japan and encountered jikoshokai. The self-introduction. Jikoshokai is a little bit like a mihi if you take place to be workplace but I wouldn’t learn this for another decade or so. I learned to replace "Hi, I’m Liz" with "How do you do? My name is Breslin, Liz. I am an English teacher from England. Yorishiku onagaishimasu." That last part is not quite literally but kind of sensically translated to "please be kind to me" but that"s not quite right. I always, unliterally, thought of it as "I place myself in your hands" though there was no actual handshaking because in Japan that is for equals. Gaijin (foreigner) girls with newly shaved heads were definite underequals and I learned to bow so well that for years afterwards I would still duck my head in greeting when I jogged past someone in the street. I loved it though. And I practised a lot. The repetition had a talismanic quality. This is who I am. This is what I do. This is where I’m from. I place myself in your hands.

How you introduce yourself / how you’re introduced, can of course change the course of a conversation and the depth of any engagement. More than once, when my kids were little and I’d surface for air, I was introduced at a party as "This is Liz, she’s from England and she has twins". And while I love my children more than any and all the words, sometimes I’d rather talk about books. Also, I have a very complicated relationship with England and Englishness that is not conducive to small talk.

More cringeworthy by far though is the corporate introduction game. Aka the icebreaker. The internet might lure you into these with promises like 33 Ridiculously Fun Icebreaker Games Your Employees Will Love which are in fact not ridiculously fun but ridiculous. Possibly the most ridiculous being the Two Truths and a Lie game, beloved by humblebragging guys with handshakes more vicelike than mine.

Put on the spot for Two Truths and a Lie, I panic. Overthink. Realise I am not in any way Ridiculously Fun. I want to come up with things that are cool and that will make people like me, which I know is not the purpose of the game. Then I have to quell the urge to talk about tattoos or sex. Not very corporate. Also, I’ve also spent too much of my life living various lies of one sort or another, so I sometimes start hyperventilating when people start guessing truths. And I’m not very good at favourite-ing things, like colours, which would be useful in this situation.

Turning to someone actually fun and cool, I asked soon-to-be Weekend Mix columnist H-J how she would introduce herself with Two Truths and a Lie and she came up with 1. I have a mild obsession with Hello Kitty. 2. I love cold weather. 3. I suck at baking. These are good, I think. It can’t be number one, because who doesn’t have at least a mild obsession with Hello Kitty. And it can’t be two because otherwise why live in Otepoti. It must be three, except, when I check, it isn’t.

Still, this is kind of fun. Makes me even want to play the game. So, Hi, I’m Liz. 1. I’m a writer 2. I’ve got a cover-up tattoo that is approximately 35 times bigger than the tattoo it’s covering up. 3. I really enjoy ridiculously fun introduction games. I place myself in your hands.


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